Rookie Tournament Should Lead to a “Smart” Decision

It’s the final week of August, the Leafs now have all their players signed, we’re just over a month away from games being played, and our focus can now shift to the hockey filler that September provides.

We are now 10 days away from the first bit of that filler with the Leafs Rookie Tournament, and a pair of games against Montreal and Ottawa.

Date Time Event Team(s)
Friday, September 8 7 p.m. Game 1 Montreal vs. Toronto
Saturday, September 9 7 p.m. Game 2 Ottawa vs. Montreal
Sunday, September 10 4 p.m. Game 3 Toronto vs. Ottawa

The list of participants is pretty much who you’d expect the Leafs to have there:

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NAME POS. 2016-17 CLUB(S)
Bobylev, Vladimir F  Victoria (WHL)
Bracco, Jeremy F Windsor (OHL)
Brooks, Adam F Regina (WHL)
Coskey, Cole  F Saginaw (OHL)
Dermott, Travis D Toronto (AHL)
Duquette, Marc-Olivier D Drummondville (QMJHL)
Dupuy, Jean F Rochester (AHL)
Dzierkals, Martins F Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)
Gordeev, Fedor D Hamilton (OHL)
Grundstrom, Carl F Frolunda (SHL)
Kaskisuo, Kasimir G Orlando (ECHL)
Korostelev, Nikita F Peterborough (OHL)
Liljegren, Timothy D Rogel BK (SHL)
Lindberg, Tobias F Toronto (AHL)
Marchment, Mason F Orlando (ECHL)
Mattinen, Nicolas D London (OHL)
McGregor, Ryan F Sarnia (OHL)
Middleton, Keaton D Saginaw (OHL)
Moore, Trevor F Toronto (AHL)
Nielsen, Andrew D Toronto (AHL)
 Piccinich, J.J. F London (OHL)
Pospisil, Kristian F Sioux City (USHL)
Rasanen, Eemeli D Kingston (OHL)
Scott, Ian G Prince Albert (WHL)
Smart, Jonathan D Regina (WHL)
Timashov, Dmytro F Toronto (AHL)

Basically it’s every recently drafted or acquired Leafs prospect minus the guys playing in Europe and the NCAA kids who would suffer a fate worth then death if someone accidentally gave them a paycheck. It’s interesting to see Korostelev on the list, and might be a sign that the organization hasn’t 100% moved on from him yet, and still want to see what he can do, and of course the three guys who are free agent invitees (Smart, Duquette, and Coskey) who all made appearances at the Leafs Prospect Camp earlier this summer.

I won’t pretend to say I know much about Coskey or Duquette, but apparently they play hockey. What can I speak to is the confusion I experienced when Jonathan Smart went undrafted in June, and the excitement I experienced when I saw the Leafs had included him in the Prospect Camp. His continued involvement with the Leafs organization is encouraging, and hopefully at the end of this tournament the Leafs will have yet another worthwhile defensive prospect in their system.

Who Is Jonathan Smart?

The Basics: He’s a 6’0, 195lb left handed defenseman on the Regina Pats. He just turned 18 in June (later birthday alert) and has played two seasons in the WHL with Kelowna and Regina. He was a first round selection by Kelowna in the Bantam Draft and he represented Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament.

The Stats:

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 2015-16 Kelowna  Kelowna Rockets  WHL 44 2 5 7 20
 2016-17 Kel/Reg  Regina Pats  WHL 67 3 25 28 43
via Prospect-Stats.com

So what we can see is that Smart has been a solid offensive defenseman on a very good Regina team, and he has familiarity with at least one other Leafs prospect, as we played with Adam Brooks more than anyone else last year. We’ve seen that Brooks has put up insane numbers, and it’s interesting to see that one of the guys who helped him get there is available to continue doing the work.

Smart was second only to his teammate, and frequent D partner, Sergey Zborovskiy in GF% for defensemen in the WHL. He finished the year with a 68.48 GF% and 11.47 GF%Rel. The team was pretty good, but great junior hockey teams don’t acquire bad players when they are taking a run at a championship and there’s little doubt that Smart held his own on the Pats.

It’s also worth noting that during his time in Kelowna, Smart was paired with 2017 1st Round pick, Cal Foote, so again we can either look at this as guy who has benefited from strong teams and strong partners or look at him as the guy who earned those opportunities.

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The Scouts: 

From HockeyNow.com:

Smart likes to make plays and will pinch and go into the corners and dig the puck out and make tight passes from in deep to the slot. Not the fastest skater and that has the potential to get him in trouble if he is caught out of position. Doesn’t have the greatest shot but that will come as he adds upper body strength. Needs to be aware of his position on odd-man rushes. Has to try not to do too much as he puts unnecessary pressure on his shoulders. Good footwork and keeping the offence to the perimeter and cuts down the passing lanes well. Still looking for the offensive part of his game to show up.

Daily Courier Article comparing Smart to Tyson Barrie:

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“I’m not going to say he’s a poor man’s Tyson, but he’s close — he’s that kind of player,” Lorne Frey, the Rockets’ longtime director of player personnel, said of Smart, who arrived at his second Rockets training camp this weekend appearing noticeably taller and tipping the scales at about 175 pounds. “We’ll see how he develops physically, that’s going to be a key with him, but he’s very smart offensively. He moves the puck very, very well and can jump into the play.

So Smart has drawn a pretty flattering comparison, but we’ll pump the breaks by saying there is a need for him to get faster, more consistent, and become less of a liability in his own end. These are all pretty manageable things. Jonathan was undrafted, he’s not going to be a perfect prospect, but looking at the Leafs recent defensive draftees, Smart’s abilities aren’t present except in their higher end guys like Liljegren and Dermott. The rest of the prospects seemed earmarked for shutdown roles.

A successful showing in the Rookie Tournament for Smart would probably mean that he was seeing some second unit power play time. According to the DubNetwork it’s likely that Jonathan will be seeing top pairing minutes in Regina next season with Josh Mahura, with Smart likely playing on the right side. Mahura’s plays a much safer game and this will give Smart to build on his strengths while facing the tougher competition that comes with top pairing minutes and a Pats team that will be taking a step backwards this year with a number of graduations.

It’s hard to imagine that the Leafs will walk away from a play of Smart’s talent after spending this amount of time taking a look at him, but it’s also a matter of whether they see they have room for him in the organization. With Dermott and Liljegren being on the fast path to the NHL, someone like Smart has the potential be a development project who could serve the Marlies power play well for a couple of years while the Leafs see what they have. On the other hand, the Leafs are a team that walks a very fine line with the maximum number of player contracts and committing to a long term project might not be something they want to do before starting the season. Either way, Smart will be one of the more interesting stories of a tournament that usually just serves to let us know hockey will be back soon.

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